Going Off Script

Non-medical Use of Pharmaceuticals



Non-medical use of pharmaceuticals refers to the use of prescribed or over the counter medicine for non-therapeutic reasons or in a way other than prescribed by a health professional. So, for example, if a person takes 4 rather than the prescribed 2 tablets per dose, or if they wash their prescription medication down with a few beers, they are misusing medicine. It is an ongoing concern around the world, and indeed, here in Australia.


According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing data from 2019 shows:

  • 1 in 25 Australians aged 14 years and over reported non-medical use of a pharmaceutical in the past 12 months

  • 1 in 9 Australians aged 14 years and over reported having used a pharmaceutical for non-medical purposes in their lifetime

  • While, 1 in 5 in Australians used pharmaceutical drugs daily or weekly for non-medical purposes

The most common pharmaceuticals used for non-medical reasons are pain killers (primarily the opioid drug class that includes drugs such as oxycodone and codeine). The second most common being sedatives (primarily the benzodiazepine drug class that includes drugs such as diazepam and temazepam).


People misuse these medicines for a range of reasons, including to relax, to get high, to relieve emotional distress, to self-medicate illness or injury or to improve performance.


Interestingly, the research also shows that people who use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes tend to be older (with a median age of 40.7 years) than people who use illicit drugs (median age 30.7 years).


At the workplace, misuse of medicines represents a serious safety risk. In managing this risk, the best place to start is with education. DASA can help with this. Our Safe Use of Medicines fact sheet was developed in-house by Associate Professor David Allen and pharmacologist Judith Griffin. It highlights the dangers of “going off script” and provides practical tips on how to be safe when using medications. To secure a copy, send an email to: info@dasa.net.au